“Middletown” at ACT

Will Eno’s “Middletown” might be seen as a postmodern take on Thornton Wilder’s beloved “Our Town” in which Wilder suggests that the riches, pathos, exhilaration, disappointments, and satisfactions of human existence, should be valued. Every minute of life should be valued. Theatregoers care deeply for Wilder’s characters, who, like them, are bound together by the pulses and rhythms of their lives.

In Eno’s play, human existence is indeed explored, but in a manner that’s more sterile, less engaging. Despite the quiet humor, poignant moments, and words of wisdom sprinkled throughout the play, it never seems to coalesce. The bits and pieces don’t make a satisfactory or cohesive whole.

That’s not to say Director John Langs production doesn’t have something going for it. Jennifer Zeyl’s set puts us in the town square and allows us inside and out of buildings. It’s effective, evocative minimalism. Ben Zamora’s lighting is especially remarkable during one night sky scene. I wanted just to sit there and watch the stars go by.

The acting is top notch from beginning to end. When R. Hamilton Wright steps on stage before the play begins (but really his appearance is the beginning), he establishes inclusiveness and welcome. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together.”ACT-Middletown - Audience reflection - Cast (c) Chris Bennion_thumb

Special praise goes, too, to Alexandra Tavares as Mary, the lonely new bride and soon-to-be-mother. She evokes wholesomeness, tenderness, and spunk. Marianne Owen is the librarian that you’d love to have and bring home as your babysitter. And kudos to the rest of the cast.

Sadly, the play’s ending borders on the trite. It’s a riff on “Man, woman, life, death, infinity” the opening lines of the 1960s “Ben Casey” TV show. But that’ was about 50 years ago, and maybe Mr. Eno thought he was coming up with something entirely new.

Through Sept. 29 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

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